To the South Bank this evening to see Richard Ford reading from his new novel Canada, and in Q and A with James Runcie.
Interesting to hear that this big book grew from 20 pages Ford had written in 1989, about a boy escaping to live in Canada. When he came across the pages again he wondered what the boy was doing in Canada, ‘Where were his parents?’ Ah, he thought, they’d robbed a bank. Okay. And off he went.
The book opens with the
narrator declaring: ‘First, I’ll tell about the
robbery our parents committed.’ The narrator's parents, however, are not natural bank robbers, but having made that the start Ford
told himself ‘This is gonna have to work.’ And so the novel grew as he explored
‘how to make that plausible.’ What had driven these ordinary people to rob a bank?
Why Canada? Ford loves the word, the sound of it, ‘It’s a dactyl,’ and the way it looks on the page.
Several times Ford referred to his dyslexia which means that his process is slow, carefully considered - writing as an act of ‘super patience.’ Once a draft is complete the editing begins with him reading the work aloud to his wife Katrina, until it sounds right. Writing, for him, an aural process. Hence all those rhythmic, flowing sentences.
Apparently he keeps his work-in-progress in the freezer because once, while at lunch, a reading lamp fell on his manuscript and set it alight. ‘I still have the burn mark on my desk.’
He reckons that the wide recognition that came with The Sportswriter was due to the fact that he’d decided on a 'draconian method' of working. Why? Because he felt his earlier novels weren’t complete, he hadn’t expressed all that he had wished to.
Since The Sportswriter he has followed this method, which consists of typing up everything from his notebook and filing it in a loose-leaf folder – character notes, themes/ideas, places. Everything he thinks is relevant to the book must be caught in this way until he has several hundred pages. 'I read it once a week, until it is in me.’ Then he can write the book. It's tough, a kind of ‘clerical hell’ but it works for him.
I'm only up to chapter 10 but it certainly seems to be working with Canada.